Another water issue which could be characterized as the environment versus development, or rich versus poor, or powerful versus powerless, or progress versus obstruction is the construction of the El Chapparal dam on the Torola river in northern El Salvador. Local communities who face displacement are trying to stop the construction of the hydroelectric dam which is already underway.
The blog at Voices on the Border provides a description of the project:
Despite controversy over environmental destruction of surrounding communities, the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL) in El Salvador has began constructing a new hydroelectric dam in the Río Torola located in the northern part of the department of San Miguel in an area known as El Chaparral. Construction began at the beginning of January this year and is expected to continue for fifty months.
Proponents of the project say that the dam is in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and has the potential to provide electricity to two hundred thousand families in El Salvador. Other touted benefits would include new economic opportunities in agriculture, fishing, and tourism.
However, there is great contention about the benefits of this project due to the resulting flooding of current communities. Contractors and government officials assure that those individuals who lose their land will be compensated and provided a place to live, but according to parish priest, José Antonio Confesor, of the community of San Antonio del Mosco, the majority of the local population does not agree with the construction. Others living in the affected areas say that they were deceived by CEL concerning the purchase of lands.
The project is being financed by a loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) for 163 million dollars and by the government that has contributed 56 million dollars.
You can read more technical details about the construction of the dam in a Project Idea Note which I found on the website of El Salvador's environment ministry.
Voices on the Border also describes the recent protests:
Citizens of San Antonio del Mosco, San Luis de La Reina, and Sesori participated in protests on Wednesday, July 22, against the construction of El Chaparral dam in the department of San Miguel, demanding that President Funes end the construction project. About 200 people were involved in the protests during the visit of Óscar Luna, the Human Rights Ombudsman for the area.
Luna, who has agreed to act as a mediator between the local population and the national government, said that “The offices of the Ombudsman are open to the two parties meeting and looking for a solution to the problem.”
The local population has questioned President Funes in his commitment to the people. Funes has thus far not called for the halting of the construction of the dam, whose construction began under former President Tony Saca. He has been criticized for the campaign support he received from Nicolás Salume, president of the Executive Hydroelectric Commission of the Lempa River (CEL).
While I was in El Salvador two weeks ago, protesters camped out at the presidential residence to try and force government ministers to meet with them and get a halt to construction activities. Protests earlier this month blocked the passage of traffic on the Panamerican highway.
Protesters have also uploaded YouTube videos here and here.
The president of El Salvador, Mauricio Funes, has addressed the El Chaparral controversy in recent statements to the press:
President Funes said that for the moment there is no executive decision on the case of El Chaparral, saying that "this decision" will be taken by him, after receiving a report that is already being assembled by a commission, chaired by the Secretary of Strategic Affairs, Hato Hasbun.
He also clarified that he is not accepting the request to dismiss the president of CEL or stopping the work of El Chaparral or construction work on [another hydo project] El Cimarron.
"I'm saying we're going to listen to them, let us know their views and we will reach an understanding that is beneficial to them and that would be beneficial for all the population. We must take into account that we have an energy deficit of nearly 6% and who will fill this need," he said.
Moreover, he stated that it is necessary to meet energy demand, because "we can not stop the country, industry, commerce, social sectors, hospitals, because they need energy to operate."
Funes said that the president seeks to reconcile national interests, creating a climate of understanding, reach agreement and establish priorities. "In 60 days we can not change the country, the number of problems that we have obliges us to set priorities, so we have created the commission to resolve this issue," he said.
(any errors in translation are mine)
The issue of the nature and extent of El Salvador's electricity deficit is central to the debate over the hydroelectric project. The proponents of the project, as echoed in Funes' comments, point to shortfalls in electricity generation compared to El Salvador's needs and argue that increased generating capacity, which the dam would provide, is necessary to attract investment and keep business functioning. Opponents of the dam argue that the shortfall is overstated and that the country's energy needs could be met more cheaply and effectively through conservation efforts.
The El Chapparal dam project has more challenges for Funes than just the local protesters. An article in La Prensa Grafica describes a report from the country's General Superintendent for Electricity and Telecommunications raising concerns about the way the Comisión Ejecutiva del Río Lempa (CEL), the autonomous agency which owns the project, awarded the contracts for construction of the dam. Blogger Neto Rivas points out that this issue is a problem for the new president because because the head of the CEL just happens to be the son of Funes' largest campaign supporter, Nicolás Salume.